Seth Godin wrote recently that cell phones repel UFO’s. He meant that people carrying digital cameras in their pockets every day take copious pictures of real things. Those pictures spread a rich reality rather than a fantastic story with little proof.
When’s the last time you saw a photo of Nessie, Sasquatch, or a Martian ship?
Big Data and Bigfoot
He may not have meant to, but Seth was talking about Big Data’s story as well. When few carried cameras (very little data), the rare photo of the unexplained (a grainy image in a Scottish lake, or a flash of light in the sky that seemed to hover) was enough to create a broadly spread story. No longer. When data becomes readily available and everyone has the ability to create and consume it (Big Data), we shift from extrapolation to understanding. We shift from folklore to digital evidence. The era of the hunch comes to a close.
There are parts of the small data era that we’ll miss. We’ll miss the fairy tale quality of ghost stories, and some will miss being respected for their ability to guess correctly. The rest of us will enjoy the era where we can understand enough to anticipate what’s coming and act when it happens.
Understand, Anticipate and Act
What does that give us? Marketers truly know their customers and the context of their interaction. They are redesigning the customer experience. Doctors have real-time data to back up their treatment choices. They are redesigning medical care. This is why so many people talk about Big Data, and while there’s hype, there’s also significant change.
I’ll miss Bigfoot, sure. He was a fun fantasy. But I’ll enjoy the new reality even more.